Richa Chadha on the art of being fearless and her tough new film

VERSATILE film actress Richa Chadha has shown quite comprehensively that she can take on any acting challenge that is put in front of her, and this has resulted in unforgettable performances that have stayed with audiences long after they have left the cinema.

The acclaimed star has perhaps taken on her most demanding role in international film Love Sonia, where she plays a prostitute caught up in human trafficking.

She perhaps has the most interesting role in the international drama that boasts a stellar cast including Mrunal Thakur, Freida Pinto, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao and Demi Moore.

The latest chapter in her unique career is a powerful film that shines a light on the horrors of human trafficking and revolves around one woman’s desperate search for her missing sister.

Eastern Eye caught up with Richa to talk about Love Sonia, acting, human trafficking, her fearless nature, inspirations and more.

Has being unpredictable with your choices been a conscious decision?
You must realise that when you are an outsider it is not like you have a long line of producers waiting to hire you. You move to Mumbai, rent a flat and go give auditions in this very competitive and toxic industry. I don’t think anyone designed my career.

Is finding the great author-backed roles the biggest challenge?
All actors are doing these roles now. Everyone is doing great parts and working on biopics. I know that when I started with Gangs Of Wasseypur, no woman would want to play the role of a mother, let alone playing a mother to someone two decades older than you. But I took that role as a challenge and it worked out for me. I took this huge risk and sometimes I feel I am still dealing with the repercussions of that. But I am okay and don’t think I have lost out on anything because of that.

What drew you towards Love Sonia?
Honestly, I did it for the cause it is based on, which is human trafficking and that is a huge problem of our times. I don’t think we will see this problem go away in our lifetime. It is an almost $200 billion industry in the world. But maybe if we make people more aware, it is possible that there will be a change.

Love Sonia is a powerful film of an innocent girl sucked into the world of human trafficking. How much of an emotionally demanding movie was it?
It was demanding, yes, but I don’t do any method work. That becomes very difficult to deal with because you have to stay in the mindset of the character the whole time. It doesn’t work for me. What I try to do is, switch in and out of the role. I switch my character on and off. Once it is done, I do try to take a break, travel or something. It is an emotionally demanding role, but in this case, I also thought it was necessary.

I knew it was possible to see the character with as much compassion as I did because there is a whole turnaround. I know that I bring something to it, you know.

Did you expect it to be so powerful when you were working on it?
When I read the script I knew that it is going to make a change and it is going to be very emotional, moving and somewhat shocking. I am glad that the character was powerful and I imagined it to be this powerful, if not more.

You are an amazing actress, but what is the biggest challenge you faced with your character in Love Sonia?
To humanise it. The word prostitute is slurred and seen as an insult. First, you are playing a prostitute and then you are playing someone who is not afraid of destroying someone else, just so that she can survive or have a room with a window.

The graph of the character was a challenge. For me, this is the most interesting graph in the whole script. I am clever like that. I pick those parts that are like salt to food.

Did you learn anything new while working on this film?
I learned about the sheer global scale of the problem. In one way, this hideous crime sickens the whole world because there is not a single country that is not afflicted by it. In a very strange and sarcastic way, this is the only time and place when no one cares about borders. It is sick and a sickness that you want to take someone’s virginity, and that you want to pay for a human being. It is a sickness when you know that if 11 girls are transported in a vessel from Hong Kong to LA, that only two or three will survive, yet you are still willing to pay the price. I mean, in a sense, you have blood on your hands. None of these girls makes it. There is around one per cent survival or escape rate.

Will you be doing more international films like this?
I would love to do more international work. I had a part I could’ve played in a series for the UK, but I was already shooting for Inside Edge (Amazon Prime drama) and didn’t have the dates, so couldn’t go. But I want to do more work globally because I think there are so many stories that need to be told.

I look at the way the world is consuming content. I’m watching something on Netflix, someone else is watching Game Of Thrones dubbed in Tamil and so on. I didn’t imagine someone, who is not an Indian, watching Inside Edge, but people did and wrote to me from places like Kenya. It was unbelievable. That is the reach of the internet. We are all connected.

Richa Chadha in a still from Love Sonia.

What other films do you have on the way?
I have the Shakeela Bhai biopic, the comedy Abhi To Party Shuru Hui Hai, courtroom drama Section 375 and Inside Edge season 2.

Do you have a dream role?
I had a dream role may be as a kid and up to two or three years ago, but now I have wisened up, I think. You have to make a dream role out of what you get.

You have worked with many interesting people; is there one that really stands out?
I have to think of all the luminaries I have worked with. Although I have worked with a lot of avant-garde filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee, the person I did my smallest stint with, was really in awe of, always wanted to work with and still want to collaborate with is Mira Nair.

What did you admire about Mira?
I did a short film with her in 2012. I was amazed how she conducted herself and controlled the set. I was so amazed by her maturity and her calm nature. I couldn’t believe it was possible for a woman to be so articulate about what she needs without feeling guilty or being offensive, she was just so confident and assertive. I really do think I learned a lot from her. I also like Zoya Akhtar and have a mind crush on her, love her cinema and know that everything she does is authentic. It has depth.

You are not afraid to speak your mind and take on challenging roles; are you fearless?
In some ways yes, I am fearless because fear is a very useless emotion. I think fear came in handy in the past in the way our ancestors evolved, where they knew if they put their hand in the fire they would burn themselves. The kind of fears most live with today are stupid and debilitating. Worries that people will not like my Instagram photos, that I am getting too fat or being afraid of failure.

They are very superficial fears. The existence of those fears is the problem. I don’t know what has happened to me. I am not afraid anymore.

Where does your fighting spirit come from?
I don’t think it is a desire to fight at all, Asjad. I think it is just trying to be myself in the most original and honest way. I mean, why should honesty be called fearlessness? If I am speaking my mind and it is honest, if I am making a political statement and it is truthful, where is the scope for fear? Why should anyone toe the line or censor themselves?

What inspires you?
I am really inspired by stories of courage. Not in a girl learning self-defence way, but just courage like facing your own demons and doing something beyond yourself. Like when I was shooting Gangs Of Wasseypur I was only 23-24 years old. I remember I had to cry in one song and after we were done shooting an old lady in the background came up to me, held my hand and wept. I felt like I channelled something that was maybe the spirit of an unhappy old woman with that song and it resonated with her so much that she broke down.